Wheat imports to rise after poor weather hits quality

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The Independent Online

British bakers are being forced to look overseas for flour after cold and wet weather decimated wheat crops across the country.

The UK is on course to import more wheat than it exports for the first time in more than a decade.

Despite 2011 having seen the best-quality crop in recent years, the quality of the 2012 wheat harvest was the worst in 35 years. Plantings of winter wheat are also down 25 per cent so far this 12-month season, which runs until the end of June.

As the UK supply fails to meet demand, wheat from Germany, Canada, France and the Baltic countries is finding its way into the flour used in British food production, according to Alex Waugh, director of the National Association of British and Irish Millers.

"The quality of 2012 UK wheat harvest was very poor, meaning that millers have had to go overseas to find what they need," he said.

Premier Foods, maker of Hovis bread, announced in January that it was abandoning its pledge to use 100 per cent British wheat because of the poor harvest.

The company stated that while it "remains totally committed to British wheat", it had seen "no option other than to use a percentage of imported wheat from the EU," except in its Farmers Loaf range.

The industry body HGCA has forecast that the UK will be a "net importer of wheat" this season for the first time since 2001/2.

Jack Watts, a senior analyst, added: "If it continues next year, it would be the first time we are net exporters for two years running since the Seventies."

HMRC is predicting total imports of 2.26 million tons this season, more than twice the normal amount, but does not give export estimates.